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Mold in season

Today is slicing day.  I’m slicing coppa, guancialle, fiocco, and ham (for sandwiches).  Of course, we make sure it’s all good as we go.  That’s a more important step than one may think.  After hanging for some time, the pieces ideally have some mold on them.  This helps impart desireable flavors and keep the meat safe–if it’s a good white mold.  Green and black mold are BAD.  We’re constantly patrolling the hanging room for good molds and bad molds, and I also check as I’m slicing to be sure a given piece doesn’t contain an unpleasant surprise.  When we see green or black mold it gets treated with apple cider vinegar.  If it’s just a small spot, a spray from a spray bottle usually does the trick.  Larger areas require some scrubbing and rinsing in the shop with the vinegar and water.  Then the piece dries and hangs in the shop a day or two to make sure it got cleaned thoroughly before returning to the hanging room.  Mold spores are airborne, so when I find a little mold on a piece I mist the floor and general area lightly with the vinegar as a precautionary measure.  Last year we had more trouble with mold, but this year these measures have worked well.

Another lesson learned this year is that seasonality is an element in the quest for good vs. evil molds.  The reasons for harvesting hogs in the fall when the nights are cold include the fact that the cooler temperatures retard mold and allow the pieces to go through the initial cure, when they are most moist and therefore most vulnerable, with greater safety.  When the more humid summer months come the pieces are either done and in use, or have a protective layer that is dryer and less conducive to mold growth.

There are many other reasons to harvest pigs in the fall and many other ways to control molds in your hanging room.  We discuss them in the classes, which are now all updated and available.  Check out either the Saturday classes to jump into the process that interests you, or come to the weekend class to get an intensive experience!

Pig Season

The Hog Harvest classes are coming up!  Here’s a cool video a friend of ours did about our pigs:

 

You CAN do it!

We made a video of how we process chickens today, just for fun.  July 25th is the date you can come and learn how to do this at home.  It really isn’t hard!  Raising chickens is an easy place to start in raising your own meats–and you CAN do it all yourself.  Check it out:

Minerals

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“Let food be your medicine”

Our 16 year old just discovered a fascinating truth: what you eat affects your body. Yep. Achy joints? Fuzzy head? Difficulty getting up in the morning? Lots of acne? The underlying cause and fix are often in your food and how your body interacts with it. Our chiropractor recommends eating up to 300 different foods daily to get the minerals and vitamins and other nutrients you need to maximally function. You can come a lot closer if you figure in all the spices and ingredients in things; however, the 20 ingredients in Fruit Loops don’t go far because they are “nutrient fluffy.” The goal is to eat “nutrient dense” foods, meaning that the carrots and lettuce and chicken on our dinner plates are as full of the tasty building blocks of life as we can get them.

How does one get nutrient dense food? One needs nutrient dense soil. This happens when you build your soil with complex fertilizers like compost and organic matter. However, there are things to know about assessing and targeting your soil’s needs. In this video, Dan Kitteredge will talk about why nutrient density is important and the first step in building your soil.

By the way, it’s February now and he recommends testing in the fall. Not to worry. That’s an optimal time, but there’s no time like the present (well, maybe the present in a couple of months) to start. Do your soil test when you can. Dan will look at sample tests in the workshop coming up and teach you how to look at your test and feed your specific soil. Sign up today: Bionutrient Food Association workshop & registration!

Introductions

Here’s an introduction to Dan Kitteredge and some of the work he’s doing on his own farm (yes, he actually farms):

Check out the course in February on the Calendar page.

High Bionutrient Crop Production

“How can I become a farmer?” someone recently asked us.  Well, if you have dirt and can put a lettuce or tomato or carrot seed in it, you can become a farmer.  It’s that easy.

However, growing food is also a science and art that can be learned and honed.  That’s what this course is about: learning the science and art of growing food that truly nourishes body, soul, and soil.  Here’s what the Bionutrient Food Association says about the course:

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They do have scholarships, so don’t let the money deter you.  We have hostel type housing on-site, so don’t let that  deter you.  This is a great course for beginners and seasoned growers alike as Dan Kitteredge is a wealth of information and a down to earth communicator.  If you can’t attend our class, look for one near you.  It’s an opportunity that’s not to be missed!

Cheese Party

Here’s your chance!  For all those times you’ve thought it’d be fun to learn how to make mozzarella and just wanted someone to show you, now’s the time.  June 7, at the Anyone Can Farm bunkhouse, starting at 9:30, we’re going to turn some of our Baker’s Green Acres milk into a few quick cheeses.  It’s just a friendly gathering of a few folks to enjoy a real food process.  I’m planning to help you (we’re all about hands-on) make mozzarella, feta, and queso blanco/paneer cheese.  If we have opportunity, we may start some kefir and yogurt, too.  All these milk products are easy to make at home with a few ingredients.  Donations accepted to cover costs.  Bring something to share for lunch.  There is limited space in the kitchen, so let me know through the Calendar page or by e-mail if you are coming.

A vision

Sam shows Matt the intricacies of processing a chicken.

Sam shows Matt the intricacies of processing a chicken.

Matt is a young man with a vision.  He sees himself revitalizing the dormant family farm using regenerative agriculture practices.  He wants to, ultimately, offer pork, beef, and chicken to local customers.  Where to start, he asked himself.  “Chickens,” was his decision.  So, he attended our recent Pastured Poultry class to get a jump on the learning curve.

Not only did he get an intensive weekend on everything chicken so that his first 150 broiler chicks would go well, he got to see how the whole farm works together and gathered ideas for his own farm of the future.  We walked the fields, watched the pigs tilling up the gardens,

A pig breaks up a clump of "quack grass" to get at the juicy roots.  They did a great job of rooting out this persistent weed!

A pig breaks up a clump of “quack grass” to get at the juicy roots. They did a great job of rooting out this persistent weed!

milked the cows, and talked politics while learning about chickens.  We also talked about marketing and the importance of sound (rather than haphazard) business practices.

Chickens are a great place to start in raising livestock.  You can have a few hens in your backyard, or let the kids have a small start-up business supplying eggs to friends, or raise broiler chickens to build a market base  and learn farming (like Matt is doing) before jumping in with both feet.

The next class is May 23-25.  We hope to see you there!

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Piggin’

In the last week we’ve had an explosion of our pig population.  Through the recent yucky, springish wintery snowy rain weather the sows decided it was time for piggin’, or farrowing.  Here are a couple videos Mark made talking about this process in a pasture system:

 

 

Yesterday the little ones were following their mothers around, napping in the sun, and just enjoying being alive.  You’ll be able to see them, plus everything else we do, when you come for a class.  You get a whole farm experience with a focused learning topic.  They’ll still be little and cute for the April Pastured Poultry class!

On being a hen

Broiler chicks

Broiler chicksWe got our first batch of chicks last week.  The weather isn’t ideal, but there are ways to work around it.  We used to raise these birds through the winter.  We’ve worked toward being strictly seasonal for many reasons, so now we start them sometime in March and end sometime in October.  This year we’ve held off a bit, but now we’re rolling.

Here are a few brooding principles we use:

1) Heat.  Heat lamps work good–the standard shield and high amp variety.  You have to monitor these because they can create hot and cold areas in the brooder and can start fires (that’s really exciting!) with the bedding.  They are effective to do the job, though, for brooding small groups of chicks once or twice a year.  We use a gas brooder now.  They are bigger and more efficient for brooding large numbers of chicks.  They also help maintain a healthy moisture level and heat more evenly.  We have some DSCN3145friends who have an outdoor boiler for their house heat and have the same radiant heat for their brooder.  That works wonderfully on all counts (even heating, dry bedding, safety) but is a higher input if you don’t already have the set-up.  The bottom line, though, is simply heat.  The ideal temperature for the first week is 90 degrees, tapering off to “room” temperature by the end of week two in July, week three in March and April.

2) Container.  The first few days the chicks like to be in a small area–like all newborns who are used to the cramped space pre-birth.  Then broiler chicks grow at an almost exponential rate.  Layer breeds grow slower, but like more space under any circumstance.  Folks start chicks in all sorts of containers: Rubbermaid boxes, kiddie pools, cow hay bale feeders, plywood boxes, etc.

Brooder set-up from the outside.One of the considerations in your container is to round out any square corners.  Chicks like to pile on each other when stressed in any way (hot, cold, damp, thunderstorm, crowded, too much space, bad mood) and corners are their place of choice.  If there isn’t a corner they are less likely to pile and the collateral damage is less.  We’ve actually stopped piling simply by rounding the corners, which had the net effect of changing the stressor, which was too much space.

Brooder interior: note the round edges, red feeders and waterers.  The other consideration with your container is flexibility.  Because they like to be tight at first and need more space exponentially, you need to be able to expand the initial space.  Dividers that can be removed as they grow is an easy way to do that.  We have expandable brooders and have panels that allow the chicks to eventually come and go out of the heated area.  We place their food and water in the cooler area to encourage them to go in those areas.

3) Feeders and waterers.  Most chick feeders and waterers have small edges and are red.  You want to be sure the little ones can get their sustenance without having to climb into the container.  Pans of water are a bad idea as a wet chick (and they will get in it!) is a potentially dead chick.  We’ve learned the hard way that if they can climb into a feeder they may get stuck in it and that’s not a nice discovery at chore time.   The red color helps them figure the process out quicker.  Chickens peck at red anyway, so it’s a natural step to play the hen’s part and teach them to eat and drink with the coloration.  The chick feeders and waterers are a worthwhile investment.

That’s today’s wisdom.  We’re taking applications for the April Pastured Poultry class, where you can learn all about chickens from start to finish.

Coming soon!

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The farm is in it’s restful winter mode, but we haven’t been.  We just realized that it’s the middle of February!  We are making the schedule for this coming year and are looking forward to seeing you.  The Pastured Poultry weekend classes, Hog Harvest classes, and Permaculture and Soils class are up on the course schedule.  We are still working on a couple of new classes and some one day classes.  Those should make an appearance very soon.

Last summer proved too busy with our legal wranglings to get the online videos done.  We hope that this summer won’t be so busy and we can complete one or two of those.

Check out the new class dates!  Check back for more information soon!

Hog Harvest 1

Last weekend was our first Hog Harvest class.

Day one saw everyone busy taking the pigs from the field to the cooler.

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We saved the internal organs, including the heart, kidneys, liver, spleen, and brain.  Here Mark is showing how to separate the caul fat from the spleen.

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Day two was cutting the halves of the pig into pieces.

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Day three is the yummy step: starting the curing process and making sausage.

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This is a hands-on class, and everyone got their hands into every step.  Along the way we ate great food and stayed up way too late discussing the world.  Students remarked that it helped to see how the pigs were raised, and to see them as part of the bigger picture of the whole farm.  They left ready to tackle raising and/or processing a pig or two.  That’s what it’s all about!

Remember: Anyone Can Farm (and that includes you).

 

OJT

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Dan boning meat for sausage.

 

Mike grinding pork for sausage.

Mike grinding pork for sausage and lard for rendering.

This past weekend we had a group of folks from Indiana who ordered pork and sent two families to pick it up.  The benefit to the Ritzmans and Baughmans was some OJT (on -job-training).  They got to help us to kill, scald, and scrape one hog, and pitched in to cut and package the 4 hogs they took back with them.

As we looked at the different cuts, we talked about various ways to prepare and preserve the parts of a pig–especially the not-so-commonly used ones, like the head, trotters, and brains.  Actually, we enjoyed the brains scrambled into an omelet for breakfast.  They end up being about the same consistency as the eggs and can pass unnoticed.

This is the thing we do that led to Anyone Can Farm.  These folks did not get the benefit of a full-blown class.  This was a utilitarian, get the job done session.  Learning happens when hands are put to work, and that’s what Anyone Can Farm is all about.  Plus, we solved the world’s problems, ate good food, and parted hoping to do it again next year.

We have two opportunities coming up for you to join us for a weekend and learn the whole process, from in the pig pasture to putting meat on salt to cure: October 25-27, and November 1-3.

We will be processing pigs through the fall and into December.  If you’d like to purchase a half or whole hog and help butcher your pig, let us know!  OJT is a great way to learn.

 

 

 

 

Hog Harvest

Among other things, Mark tells you on this video why the Hog Harvest class is for you!

Lard

Lard rendering in a double boiler.
Lard rendering in a double boiler.

Lard rendering in a double boiler.

I recently came into some back fat from one of our pigs.  The loin had so much fat on it that Mark trimmed half of it off so the chop would have a balanced amount of meat and fat.  I’ve been using a good share of lard lately, so I decided to render it.  Last fall we met a lady from Maine, Debra Evans, who introduced me to a different way to render.  She puts the well chilled fat through the largest plate on her grinder and then uses a double boiler to render it.  The double boiler has the advantage of keeping the fat at the low end of the proper temperature.  Temperature is very important in rendering.  Too cool and you won’t get the fat out of the lard in this century.  Too hot and you can scorch the lard pieces and infuse the protein into the fat, making your lard smell and taste like roasted pork.  That’s OK for frying eggs, but makes a blueberry pie taste funky.  I’m not convinced that the double boiler is better than my wok/lard pan method, but it is easier to manage in a busy kitchen because if I forget it for a while or have to run to the bank it just keeps on safely doing its thing.  For the purposes of a homestead hog harvest situation this is invaluable.  Maybe this fall we’ll get both pans going and do a methodology comparison.

How can you use lard?

  • Fry eggs.
  • Make baked goods.  Leaf lard is better for this than back fat, I’m told, but for not-so-discerning palletes, either works well.  The consistency of your baked goods is lighter if you mix the lard 50/50 with butter.
  • Pop popcorn.  Dorothy loves a late night snack.  She even uses the greasy cracklin’s, which get nice and crispy while the corn pops in the pan.
  • Top dress steamed veggies with some real sea salt and garlic.  Anyone will eat those beans or broccoli!
  • Mangalitsa lard can be whipped and then used as a spread in place of butter.  Add some real salt and herbs and you will be hooked.
  • Test your imagination!

Remember: Fat is flavor.  Fat is your friend.  (Thanks to Brian Polcyn for that mantra!)

 

Lardo

A plate of Mangalitsa goodness--the best of fat and meat and spices put together.

A plate of Mangalitsa goodness–the best of fat and meat and spices put together.

Fat is flavor.  Fat is your friend.

Our pigs are fat.  At Hog Harvest, we will show you that fat has flavor and is a dish of beauty.

Besides rendering hog fat for lard, we will be making “lardo.”  Lardo is simply cured fat.  The thicker it is, the better the cure works.  The result is a sliver of glistening, salty, herb flavored (or not) deliciousness.  After trying our lardo and loving it, a friend shared this article with us:

How to Make Lardo

Lardo and sausages hanging to cure after last year's Homestead Hog Harvest class.

Lardo and sausages hanging to cure after last year’s Homestead Hog Harvest class.

Hog Harvest

Mark and Joe demonstrate how to process a hog.

We recently had a Celebration of the Farm here, hosting around 230 people.  The bunkhouse was full, the campground was nearly full with tents and various other campers.  It was an exciting fulfillment of a vision.

Part of the Celebration was a Hog Harvest Demonstration.  People watched and helped with getting a hog from the field, scalded and scraped, split, and in the cooler.  Folks really appreciated the opportunity to participate in procuring their food.

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Mark and Joe demonstrate how to process a hog.

Mark and Joe demonstrate how to process a hog.

Part of any stay of the farm is experiencing the whole farm.  You can collect the eggs for breakfast, milk the cow for lunch, and, depending on the time of year, browse the garden for dinner.

Cooking up heart, liver, kidneys, brain, and tongue.  You can't say "no" till you've tried it!

Cooking up heart, liver, kidneys, brain, and tongue. You can’t say “no” till you’ve tried it!

 

The sign says it all!

The sign says it all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milking the cow by hand.

Milking the cow by hand.

We’re are into planning for the Hog Harvest classes this fall.  The pigs are fattening.  We’ve refreshed our skills.  We have the housing ready for those who want to stay with us (at no extra charge).  You, too, can milk the cow, collect the eggs, and learn how to make fabulous lard, bacon, and ham!  Hog Harvest: coming soon!

Tips on chickens

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Multi-modal learning means leaning with all your senses.  That’s what an on-farm class is all about.  Here are a few snapshots from our last class and the tips being the students learned with their eyes, ears, nose, hands, etc.:

Joe showing Remi how to pluck a chicken.  The scalding water (to loosen the feathers) is about 140 degrees.  The bird is completely dunked for about 20 seconds, then checked.  Ideally the feathers pull out easily and leave the skin intact.

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Jadwiga picked up quickly on cutting the back side of the bird open prior to gutting.  We start about halfway between the vent and the breast cartilage, cut a slit down and around the bottom of the vent.  You should have an opening big enough to stretch and allow your hand in to pull out guts, but not so large that the rear end looks skinned.  The vent should come out with the guts.  The tricky part is in not nicking the intestines.  If you do, rinse with clear water quickly.

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How to brood a brand new chick is not too hard, but requires a bit of know-how.  They need 90 degrees and dry bedding for the first several days, and the temperature can back down from there.  Brooding in July and August is, of course, much easier that in early spring or winter, but proper equipment and a well set up brooder can make all the difference.  People can brood chicks in almost anything (and do!), but the key is to be able to expand it as the small day old chicks grow exponentially.  Another trick is to shape the brooder, or add wedges, to make it have rounded corners.  Chicks “pile” in sharp corners and simply rounding those corners discourages that tendency.

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Assessing the health of your birds is important.  Examining the manure for rusty or red spots is an easy way to catch coccidia before it overwhelms the bird.  Coccidia is a protozoa that burrows into the intestinal lining, causing bleeding and scarring.  It impairs the intestines ability to function and, therefore, the bird’s ability to gIMG_1432-001ain nutrients from its food.  When you process your birds, the quality of the carcass and the conditioIMG_1613n of the internal organs can also tell you about the health of your birds.  Here the class looks at a not-so-healthy liver and a vibrant liver.  This was the only poor liver we saw, so likely the bird was just not as constitutionally strong as the other birds and its liver had to work harder.  Because it was the only one in the bunch, the birds were a healthy bunch overall.

Everyone’s favorite part of a class is dinner!  You are invited to eat with our family for the weekend, enjoying lots of chicken and learning how you can utilize the whole bird at home.

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There’s a Pastured Poultry class coming up July 19-21.  We hope to see you there!

 

Pastured Poultry

Remi, Jadwiga, and Rudina proudly display their hand-plucked chickens in last year's class.

 

Polish farmer Remi and Mark discussing how to work various enterprises together on a farm.

Polish farmer Remi and Mark discussing how to work various enterprises together on a farm.

Remi, Jadwiga, and Rudina proudly display their hand-plucked chickens.

Remi, Jadwiga, and Rudina proudly display their hand-plucked chickens.

Our Pastured Poultry class in June featured an international flare.  Two of the students had come all the way from Poland to learn how to raise animals on Pasture.  Remi and his wife Jadwiga have worked with SAND International  to learn vegetable production for many years.  Now Remi wants to expand his hilly 9 acres on the edge of a small Polish town to include pastured chickens and sheep.  They chose to attend an Anyone Can Farm class because we are located on about the same latitude so farming conditions will be similar.  Remi faces other challenges that make sustainable farming appealing: his land is pretty much all fairly steep hillside, and gas is about $8/gal. so gas powered implements aren’t an economical option.

Remi and Jadwiga enjoyed the many aspects of the farm, like collecting eggs.

Remi and Jadwiga enjoyed the many aspects of the farm, like collecting eggs.

Remi soaked in everything about chickens he could.  A lot of the lessons were firsts for him!  He had never slaughtered an animal before, never handled many of the power tools used to build the chicken tractor in class, and has never seen a diversified farm that strives to make everything compliment the whole.  Remi already composts vegetable matter on his farm, so the compost piles and how we use the animal wastes to build compost that then makes better animal feed was of interest to him.  He also made a point of discussing the pigs and the rotationally grazed cows with Mark.  He even helped Mark move the cows on Saturday.  He felt he carried enough information away from the weekend to start at home with his large plan for his small acres.  The weekend was a success!

Hosting folks from Poland, as well as their American hosts who had experience in India, Liberia, and Poland made the class an educational experience for us, as well!

We hope to meet YOU at the next class, July 19-21.  You can still sign up!  The next weekend class is Hog Harvest Days,

In this video, Mark explains what a Pastured Poultry class involves:

Pigs

DSC02991“So what are your thoughts on this, Mark? What can simple small pig farmers do to keep our porkers safe from contracting this virus?”

Outbreak of Deadly Piglet Virus Spreads to 13 States

That is an excellent question and it strikes at the heart of basic pig husbandry.  A strong immune system is the key to prevention.

1) Make sure they have space, fresh air, good bedding, dry ground as well as a wallow. A heritage breed sow farrowing outside in straw.  Everyone's healthy!

2) Make sure your feed is separated from their dirty little feet as much as possible (they are pigs and can’t help it!). 

3) If in doubt our first line is biochar (which Joe makes for us), which acts like activated charcoal and provides a double good when we’ve innoculated it first so that its full of good bacteria that strengthen the immune system.

The other thing to look at is your breed of pig. Heritage pigs of any strain have stronger immune systems than the hog house white pigs. ThBioCharey resist parasites and diseases that the others simply aren’t bred to resist anymore. It’s the difference between a layer hen and a broiler chicken.

Come learn more about good hog husbandry at Hog Harvest Days!

Chickens

“How to raise an animal” isn’t just for the people who want to raise them.  The class is also for people who eat them and just want to know more about the meat they eat.  A Pastured Poultry class coming up!  You can find out how to raise a few little ladies in your own yard, or you can figure out how to ask intelligent questions of your farmer and know something about the answers.  One of our Hog Harvest attendees shared that that was the advantage to her: she could tell the processor how to cut her hog (purchased from someone else) and really know the cuts and what she wanted.

Here’s the skinny (411) on the Pastured Poultry class:

Pastured Poultry

Frequently Asked Question: What kind of chicken should I raise for meat?

There are a few options now:

1)

Broiler chickens (Cornish cross) in a chicken tractor.

Broiler chickens (Cornish cross) in a chicken tractor.

Broilers.  These are a Cornish chicken crossed with another breed (Vantress, White Mountain Rock, etc.).  They grow quickly, 6-9 weeks depending on how big you want them and how you raise them.  They are not as hardy and need more careful brooding than the other types of birds.  They are messier and smellier.  They are not as efficient on pasture and do require grain feeding.  That’s the downside.  The up side is that they grow quickly so they are come and gone in just a couple of months.  They do produce a nice, meaty carcass.  They can be pastured (we have ours out), and do best in the contained “chicken tractor” because they are babies their whole lives.

2)

This is a Buff Orpington rooster;  Known to be dociile, good egg layers, and tasty eating.

This is a Buff Orpington rooster; Known to be dociile, good egg layers, and tasty eating.

Layer chickens/heritage birds.  Roosters make great eating.  There are “heavy” breeds and “light” breeds.  You want a “heavy” breed like a Buff Orpington, Barred Rock, Black Sex Link, Black Australorp, or Rhode Island Red.  Down side: roosters take about 24 or more weeks to reach a nice butchering weight and are not usually as fat or meaty as a Cornish cross.  They don’t make the boneless, skinless breast type of cuts.  They can be chewier or tougher than the Cornish cross birds and need a little different cooking technique.  Up side: They have more flavor in the meat.  The meat can be fairly tender if cooked correctly.   They are better foragers and can grow well on alternative feeds and grasses/bugs/etc.  The rooster chicks are often cheaper than the broiler chicks.  These fellows

like to “free range” and can be contained in a tractor but prefer an open house situation.

3) Freedom Rangers.  This is a new hybrid.  They look like a layer rooster but grow quicker like the Cornish cross.  Most people we know who have raised them have done so in about 12 weeks.  They forage well and can grow on forage and also need some grain.  They don’t get as heavy as the Cornish cross, but still have a nice double breast.  They are a little more difficult to find as chicks but are becoming more available.

That’s the quick answer.  We do have a Pastured Poultry class coming up soon: June 28 – 30.  Some scholarships are available, so let us know if that would help you be able to come.  Here’s Mark’s intro to the class:

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Nature

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Here is anDSC03160other example of how the first permaculture principle can play out with animals:

Anyone who’s raised animals very long can tell you that sometimes things go wrong.  They aren’t really “Acts of God.”  Things were designed to work a certain way and when it goes wrong it usually involves nature, as in “the nature of the beast” (literally).  Animals have a way of looking at the world, and when they become difficult it’s usually because we aren’t understanding their viewpoint and meeting their needs. (Temple Grandin is a proponent of this if you want to read about it elsewhere.)

Last night was a case in point.  Our youngest group of chicks is about 3 weeks old now.  They needed to transition out of the brooder, but Joe didn’t have space until Monday and needed to let the next pen dry off before he moved them.  They had sustained a couple of losses, but were generally doing well.  Then, Tuesday morning, Keith came rushing in: “I have a BIG problem!”  Apparently the thunderstorm the night before, or the humidity of the storm, or something caused these easily stressed birds to panic and they “piled.”  They climbed on top of each other seeking comfort, suffocating the ones on the bottom.  It can be ugly, but it’s their nature.

This started out as a group of 600 chicks.  By the time Joe and Keith got it sorted out and various ones had revived once rescued from the pile, Keith counted 169 dead.  Ugly doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.

They cleaned up and Joe moved the chicks into the next pen.  The chicks had been very stressed by now—big storm, moving, new and unfamiliar surroundings.  Then dark descended.  By their nature, they wanted the comfort of their big, solid walls and low ceiling.  This big, open pen scared them.  So they started to do what they do when looking for comfort.  They started to pile again.  The “Act of God” was that Joe, contrary to his nature, decided to check on them again after he was nearly in bed for the night, and came back over at 11:30.  We lost about 10 or so birds, but that’s all.  We gave them walls and a ceiling and rigged a heater.  That was all they wanted, after all.  We put more wood shavings over top of them once they settled in, shut the lights off, spread the last few who were determined to pile out to the edges, and said goodnight.  By their nature, they don’t move much during the night.  We’d provided the security they desired, with a little extra warmth to boot.  That was all we could do.

I’m happy to report that we lost zero chicks during the night.  At 6:30 this morning they were running around, chirping happily, drinking and eating and dust bathing.  They were in and out of their security area and generally looked very happy with life.  It doesn’t take much to be happy when your brainstem is bigger than your brain.  Those of us with the cognitive capacity just need to slow down sometimes and consider the nature of things, and go with it.

Now, Kimi the bull-who-climbs-through-small-holes-in-the-wall is a story for another day.

Intro to Permaculture and Soils, this Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday.  Come learn a new way to look at your “farm.”

Soil

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Picture 081Last night we attended a seed saving class taught by Craig Schaaf.  In all the seed information, Craig slipped in some great soil information.  As a seed saver, the mineralization of his soil is very important.  A well mineralized plant is one that is grown in soil with plenty of trace minerals–not just the potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus that concerns most gardeners or farmers.  A well mineralized plant is healthier, more disease and pest resistant, and produces a stronger seed.  It’s fruit or produce tastes better and will keep longer.  He recommends testing your soil through a lab like Biosystems: Soil testing and consultation services, who can do a trace mineral analysis for you.  Trace minerals are the minute but essential nutrients a soil needs to have healthy flora (good bacterias and funguses) and fauna (worms, nematodes, etc.) that in turn help plants to grow strong, resilient, and productive.Kelp is Craig’s recommended all-purpose amendment.  It contains about 60 trace minerals, all of which are readily available to the soil life and your plants.

One mineral tip Craig shared concerned heavy, clumpy clay soilssoil types_0.  Michigan has clay areas interspersed with sandy stretches, so this is an issue here.  When we were in Montana we encountered “gumbo.”  That’s the heavy, clumpy soil that defines such soil.  It is the stuff that gives you platform shoes on a rainy day.  What this soil type is strong in is magnesium.  That is a binding mineral.  Calcium is the antidote mineral.  They have the same polarity (and therefore attractiveness), but calcium is stronger and therefore limits the binding action of the magnesium.  This is an example of how knowing the mineralization of your soil can make a huge difference in your garden.

Thought for the day:  “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”  Elbert Hubbard

Remember, Anyone Can Farm!

Beds!

Mark brought home the first installment of bunkbeds for the Bunkhouse.  The guys set them up this morning and they look great!  We are excited to have people come and stay with us.

Keith and Mark putting together a bunk bed.

Keith and Mark putting together a bunk bed.

Joe and Sam finish another bed.

Joe and Sam finish another bed.

 

 

 

 

 

***

 

Finished product, ready and waiting for guests!

Finished product, ready and waiting for guests!

 

 

 

Joe and Sam got all tired out!

Joe and Sam got all tired out!

 

Sam and Joe would like you to think that they worked so hard setting up the new bunkbeds that they had to nap.  They report the beds are comfortable and those who stay in the Bunkhouse will appreciate them.  Especially after a hard day of making biochar, working in soil, or building a chicken tractor.  We still have room in the Biochar, Soils and Permaculture, and Pastured Poultry classes.  The Hog Harvest classes are a ways off, but it can’t hurt to plan ahead as that’s a popular class.  Sign up today to get your spot!

Chickens (and more)

Wondering what the Pastured Poultry Course is all about?  Mark tells you here:

 

Sign up today! Share the word with your friends and food conscious groups.  Classes are coming up soon and we want to make sure we get everyone in.

Permaculture

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per·ma·cul·ture

/ˈpərməˌkəlCHər/
Noun

The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

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“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.”
Bill Mollison (from the permaculture.net website)

I’m learning what permaculture is.  This is a course that will be taught by someone else (Penny Krebiehl and Craig Schaaf), so I have a functional knowledge, but not the technical knowledge needed to teach it.  In many ways, it seems to me that permaculture is what our great grandparents did, whether they lived on a city lot or an 80 acre farm.  They studied their situation, which included the land, the climate, their social situation (this was important in the water sharing west as well as the urban areas), and their total resources.  They figured out the best way to get the most production, both food and financially, that their situation would allow.  They sought to work with the land as much as possible because they didn’t possess the petroleum means (tractors, fuel, fertilizer) to force their will.  This is, to my understanding, the essence of permaculture.  It’s the construction of a productive system that uses the components to benefit and sustain each other. 

A row of chicken "tractors" marching across a field.  The birds leave behind well fertilized forage for the next grazers.

A row of chicken “tractors” marching across a field. The birds leave behind well fertilized forage for the next grazers.

On our farm, we graze animals to build the soil to grow healthier plants to have food to graze the animals on.  For our efforts we get meat, milk, and eggs.  Plus, the animals provide the raw material for compost to enhance the soil of our garden so we have good vegetables.  Any organic “waste” from the butcher shop or milk processing (such as whey when I make the family’s cheese) goes back into the system one way or another.  This is one example of permaculture.

Since soil is the key to growing anything, it is a critical component in building your permaculture system.  Craig Schaaf is an experienced farmer and respected teacher of this kind of agriculture.  Craig has modeled his farm on Eliot Coleman’s work, focusing on soil building to achieve amazing harvests from small spaces.  Craig will be teaching us how to use what’s naturally available to us to build a well mineralized soil that can support intensive planting.

turnipsThis is a class that I anticipate will be of great use to beginners who just want to know where to start.  I recommend it as the starter class if you’ve never grown a thing in your life. Permaculture ideas provide an umbrella for you to understand sustainable, organic type farming.  Soils are the foundation of all growing.

I also anticipate that this class will be full of information for those of us who have been growing all sorts of things for most of our lives.  There is a lot to know about permaculture and soils and building a sustainable system.  Your farm or garden will benefit from your time with Penny and Craig.  We will be inside learning the basics, but also out in the field applying what’s in the books.  In this class you can learn:

  • Principles of permaculture – your guides as you observe and plan.
  • Ethics of permaculture – how to apply the principles to your land and your life.
  • Soils – applying permaculture to the foundation of all that you will grow.
  • Design – Planning your food growing enterprise with permaculture principles and ethics in mind.

Hope to see you here!  Introduction to Permaculture and Soils

Planter ideas

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Yesterday we enjoyed an afternoon in Cadillac, sitting by the lake, chatting with passersby.  It was the kick-off for Transition Cadillac’s “200 Yarden Dash.”

DSC03389-001I saw a couple clever ideas I thought I’d share.  Vickie Purkiss was demonstrating this modified raised bed.  It’s made from hay, although she said straw was recommended.  She added the dirt and compost mixture a couple of inches deep.  Then she planted the cabbages into the dirt.  The plants were wilty because they were in a cold breeze and weren’t used to the outdoors, but she said she’d had good success with this method before.

DSC03387-001These are very basic outdoor plant beds.  One lady I talked to lives in an apartment, but wants to grow more of her family’s food.  They have a small yard and are going to have a few rabbits and use one or two of these beds for vegetables.  They won’t have to dig up the yard for their garden, and the beds are easily mobile when they move.

The class that seemed most appropriate for many people just starting out was the Soils and Permaculture Class.  Soil is so basic to any food enterprise, whether it’s vegetables or animals.  It’s important to learn about managing it well no matter what you want to do.  Permaculture is a fancy word for getting an overview of your property/area and figuring out how to manage it as naturally as possible.  This class is a good overview and basic skills primer for all the other classes.  Plus, you can see how we use it with both plants and animals and can figure out how, say, 5 layer hens in your backyard can be used to benefit your lettuce and beans or begonias.  It’s a great beginner class, but I’m looking forward to it as well.  You can follow the link to learn more about it, and sign up with “buy now” button.

Hope these ideas help spark some thoughts on how you might “farm!”

The Life of the Soil

Biochar made from a cow bone.

BioCharSoil is the foundation of any farming venture.  Soil is the building block of life.  Dirt is where we started and it is the source of what we need to keep going.

A well tended soil can boast a million species of bacteria in one gram–and that doesn’t count the fungi, molds, worms, and other creepy crawlies.  This is a “living” soil.  All these small inhabitants perform myriads of functions that maintain or grow the soil itself, feed plants, and exchange, sequester, or release nutrients and atmospheric gasses.  These functions are all crucial to us.

Unfortunately, the folks who have developed our agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides since the 1950′s looked primarily at the plants growing on the surface.  They got very good at feeding plants, killing weeds, and annihilating creepy crawlies.  They neglected the life under the crust, to the great detriment of the soil.  Farmers and gardners are facing the need to use more and more fertilizer and pesticides to get the same results because the soil is dead or dying and unable to truly nourish the plants, leaving them weak and vulnerable.  Some weeds are even beginning to show resistance to Round-up.

All is not lost, though.  You can grow soil for your plants, whether it’s lawn, flowers, or vegetables.  There are two things to look at in a shovelful of dirt: minerals (the building blocks of life) and living creatures (the vehicles and factories for moving, storing, manufacturing, and making the minerals bioavailable to plants).

Chicken manure and bedding makes great compost.  This pile is being turned/aerated and is steaming hot.

Chicken manure and bedding makes great compost. This pile is being turned/aerated and is steaming hot.

You can have your soil tested for mineral content by special labs, but keep in mind that different plants like different things.  If you want high production from your garden plants (as a market gardener would), this is worth the investment.  For a home gardener it can be simpler.  The answer is compost.  Compost is decomposed organic material.  It is full of the vitamins and minerals from the material it was made from.  You can add certain amendments, which we’ll cover another time (and for sure in the Soils and Biochar classes), but compost all by itself can be complete enough for most gardening.  Compost is becoming easier to find all the time, but it’s also easy to make.  We’ll cover that in class, too.

How to encourage “life?”  Compost actually comes with the biology that made it.  It is usually already alive with the decomposers of the soil.  In addition you can add worms, leaf mold (a great source of nutrients and fungis and molds), and a 5 gallon bucket (or lots more) of dirt dug from a woods.

Biochar made from a cow bone.

Biochar made from a cow bone.

Biochar provides the perfect environment for encouraging a living soil.  Charcoal in various degrees has been used by native cultures and third world farmers for centuries.  It was discovered in the Amazon and provided the native tribes a way to grow food for a huge population on  what is otherwise very poor soil.  Biochar is the carbon carcass or organic material.  Usually it is from wood, but can be made from bones, plants, or anything dense and organic.  It is produced at high temperatures (much hotter than your woodstove or grill) so that the impurities and toxic gasses are consumed and what is left is very pure.  The flora and fauna of your soil love to take up residence in the millions of apartments comprising the biochar.  Nutrients can be stored and slow released as plants need them.  The char will also act as a sponge for water so that the effects of drought are mitigated.  This is most obvious in poorly nourished, arid soils.  In good soils, you should find you need to add less compost or other amendments over time.

Corn without biochar on left, with biochar on right.

Corn without biochar on left, with biochar on right.

Here is a photo of our field trials with biochar.  This was sweet corn planted in the field.  It didn’t get water other than rain and dew.  The yields were better from the corn on the right – bigger ears, better filled out.  The biochar corn stayed green longer into the fall, making the earless stalks better fodder when we grazed them off.   The beds were treated the same other than the biochar.  This wasn’t an exactly scientific study, but it provides good anecdotal evidence for the effects biochar can have.

Soil is a living thing, not just dirt.  You can have soil that will grow nutritious vegetables with the addition of compost.  Plus, by adding biochar you can supercharge your soil.  We can show you how!

References: National Geographic: A Cubic Foot

You can also read more about biochar on Baker’s Biochar.

Pastured Poultry Course Intro

Wondering what you’ll learn about Pastured Poultry?  Check this video out: